When Johnny DeRing took over as coach of the Whitehall-Yearling High School baseball team last July, his first goal was to rejuvenate interest in the program.
There are 13 players this spring, so the Rams will field only a varsity team, but DeRing likes the makeup of his roster.
"There's a good core here, a good group of kids," he said. "We started workouts in September and had a decent turnout. The biggest thing that I like is we had kids playing other sports, so there's a lot of multi-sport athletes, which I really like. It teaches them how to compete across the board and be coached by different people."
Whitehall opened March 26 against Ready and returns to action Friday, March 29, as host to Northland. The Rams begin MSL-Ohio Division play April 8 against Bexley.
DeRing, 35, replaced Bill Welsh, who stepped down after six seasons in which the Rams went 31-106 overall and 16-62 in the MSL-Ohio. They were 1-18 overall and 1-9 in the league last spring.
DeRing is a 2002 graduate of Whetstone, where he played catcher. He coached high school baseball in Georgia the past 10 years and is a physical education teacher at Rosemore Middle School.
"Our biggest room for improvement is numbers-wise," he said. "It is what it is and hopefully if we can go out and have a successful season, we'll get more people out."
Leading the way should be senior Mitchell Webb (INF/P), who batted .378 with 17 hits, eight runs, six RBI and three doubles last season.
"(Our schedule is) difficult, especially since we play a lot of (Division I) schools," Webb said. "We really don't have that many kids that come out for baseball, but the kids that we do have are very special to us and we really love the game."
Webb also earned Whitehall's only win on the mound last year and finished with 34 strikeouts in 35 innings. He was named first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district.
Also back are senior James Reed (1B/P), juniors Garin Barnes (utility) Bradley Buchert (utility), James Lehew (INF/P), Drevon Pinkney (OF/P) and Corey Snider (INF/P) and sophomore Jace Peck (utility).
"(DeRing has) really brought us together," Snider said. "He's getting us (prepared) for the season. I feel like we're a lot better than we have been in the past and he's really pushed us to be the very best that we can be."
Other players are juniors Michael Adkins (utility), Khadafi Charles (INF) and Zy'Aire Pooler (INF) and freshmen Matthew Cooper (OF) and A.J. Scott (utility/P).
"I told them from the beginning that everybody is a pitcher just because of the numbers," DeRing said. "Everybody has to go out there and be able to give us an inning or two. They've responded pretty well to it."
Last season, the Rams finished sixth in the MSL-Ohio behind champion London (8-2), which is now playing in the Central Buckeye Conference.
"I believe the league is wide open," DeRing said. "It's anybody's league to win. We'll use that to our advantage."
Turner to guide softball team
The softball team also has a new coach as Kirsten Turner has replaced Brian Anderson, who stepped down after six seasons and is the new coach at Westerville North.
Turner, 24, is a 2012 graduate of Whitehall. She played softball for coach Lisa Morelli, who is now the athletics director at Watkins Memorial.
"(Morelli is) super excited," Turner said. "She's still who I go to. She's one of my biggest mentors. She's one of the biggest reasons why I'm here. Morelli was one of the biggest influences I had in high school and that's one of the biggest reasons I wanted to come back and coach."
The Rams opened March 27 against Big Walnut and play host to Cristo Rey on Thursday, March 28. They begin defense of their MSL-Ohio title when they visit Worthington Christian on Monday, April 1.
Last season, the Rams and London shared the league title at 7-1. The Red Raiders are now playing in the Central Buckeye Conference.
The top returnee is junior Kaila Daugherty (P), who batted .364 with five doubles, two triples and 23 runs and was 5-5 in the circle last season. She was second-team all-league.
Sophomore Mackenzie Schmittauer (OF/SS) hit .311 with three doubles, one triple, one home run and 22 runs. She was honorable mention all-league.
Also back are senior Ally Shoemaker (SS/OF), junior Kamdon Pauley (1B) and sophomore Kylie Brown (C).
Other players are seniors Lorena Barboza (utility) and Rana McGill (utility), junior Nyasia McCrary (utility), sophomores Trystan Caldwell (utility), Shyaira Johnson (2B), Cameron Pharo (utility), Ashley Villeda (OF/C) and Kyland Wooden (OF/utility) and freshmen Brooklynn Greer (3B), Morgan Koons (OF) and Hailey Roberts (utility).
"Even though we weren't fortunate to have a j.v. team, we have a great, solid team," Turner said. "We have 16 girls with big hearts."
Whitehall lost several key players to graduation, including Trinity Johnson (CF), who led the Rams in batting average (.507), triples (6), home runs (6), RBI (32) and runs (38).
Madison Stiffler (C) batted .486 with 12 doubles, two homers and 21 RBI, and Makayla Barber (P) hit .410 with seven doubles, one homer and 27 RBI. In the circle, Barber was 6-2 with a 5.53 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 43 innings while battling a right shoulder injury for most of the season.
Barber, Johnson and Stiffler were first-team all-league. In the Division II all-district honors, Johnson was first team, Stiffler was second team and Barber was honorable mention.
"We're focusing on what we can do this year, set new goals and see what we can overcome," Turner said.
Below are the coming schedules for the Whitehall-Yearling baseball, boys tennis, softball and track & field teams:
March 29 -- Home vs. Northland
March 30 -- At Reynoldsburg
April 3 -- Home vs. Reynoldsburg
March 28 -- Home vs. Cristo Rey
March 29 -- At Westland
March 30 -- At Washington Court House Miami Trace (DH)
*April 1 -- At Worthington Christian
*April 3 -- At Bexley
*April 2 -- At Bexley
April 3 -- At Hamilton Township
TRACK & FIELD
March 30 -- Newark Invitational
April 2 -- At Bexley
April 3 -- Independence Relays